Tenn. Students' Achievement Evident

Article excerpt

All Tennesseans should be proud that the state is leading the nation in student achievement gains, but teachers should be especially proud because they made it happen.

I was spending the day with teachers in Memphis when the results of the 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress came out in November. I can hardly explain the excitement I felt just being there. The NAEP also known as the "Nation's Report Card" showed that Tennessee students improved in both of the areas and grades tested English/Language Arts and Math in fourth and eighth grades. Tennessee's progress places it first among the states in improvement from 2011 to 2012.

And while that is impressive, teachers know the progress students have made isn't measured only by NAEP scores. Students also have improved literacy and math skills through their work in the classroom and on the state assessments over the last few years. The evidence of increased student achievement is starting to accumulate.

Frankly, I'm not surprised.

Since our partnership with the Memphis City Schools began four years ago, the College Ready Education Team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has closely watched and learned. Memphis City Schools is now Shelby County Schools, but one thing that hasn't changed is an unwavering focus on teaching and learning.

Indeed, your district leaders and teachers have designed and implemented a ground-breaking approach to fostering high-quality instruction. Shelby County's Teacher and Leader Effectiveness focus combines what I like to call "high supports and high demands." It elevates strong, respected teachers into leadership positions so they can mentor and guide colleagues while also continuing their classroom teaching. Teacher evaluation is focused on feedback and based on a number of factors including peer observations using a teacher-designed tool, student growth and achievement, stakeholder perception and professional learning. Finally, teachers receive rewards, career opportunities and recognition for their accomplishments. Shelby County puts it simply as: "Supports. Feedback. Rewards."

Shelby County is becoming a model for how to put teachers front and center in education. It is a commitment I feel personally, one that is rooted in my own teaching experience. …